Center for Strategic Decision Research


Twenty-First Century Coalition Warfare: Implications for the Military and for Industry

Mr. Jacques S. Gansler
Under Secretary of Defense of the United States

I find it remarkable that so much has happened in this magnificent and historic city in so little time and that we find ourselves now embarked on a journey of partnership, working together as a coalition to meet the challenges of our new defense environment. I was interested to see that a new American play—Picasso at the Lapin Agile—that just closed in Washington has now just opened in Budapest at the Vigszinhaz Theater. The play is about a fictitious meeting between the young Einstein and the young Picasso in a Paris bar, during which they argue over who will make the biggest contribution to the 20th century. The relevance to this conference is obvious. Both of these men (Picasso and Einstein) represented a new way of thinking. They truly ushered in a paradigm shift in our view of the future—not simply a linear extrapolation of the past. Today, our world is rapidly going through a dramatic transformation in multiple fields—geopolitical, military, economic, and technological—and our challenge is to guide our nations successfully through these transformations; to determine what we will need to insure a more peaceful and stable century than the one we left behind. We know little about this future world except that, based on the recent past, it is likely to be unpredictable and dangerous. And I believe we can be certain that, to be successful, we have to concentrate on our contribution as a community of nations, as partners, if we are to achieve our goals.


We meet at a critical time to discuss a critical set of issues that may well determine the future security of the many nations represented here for decades to come. When we met last year, we discussed “future” or “possible” threats emerging in the early years of the 21st century. Yet, events over just the past year—the North Korean and Iranian missile launches, the terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, the nuclear explosions in India and Pakistan, the repeated, sophisticated cyber attacks on U.S. Defense Department information systems and, of course, the events in Yugoslavia—all these have made us painfully aware that these threats are already with us.

While we cannot say for certain how such new threats will evolve, they are unlikely to go away. In fact, as transnational terrorist elements and rogue nations shift to biological and chemical attacks (both at home and abroad) and as they intensify their information warfare attacks on our infrastructure (for example, against our air traffic control systems and our electronic financial systems), these threats will surely grow in number, magnitude, and geographic dispersion.

Terrorist threats that rely on early 21st century technology are, of course, only one end of the spectrum of future threats we must be prepared to face. We must also prepare for a diverse and unpredictable threat that combines more traditional forms of conflict with acts of terrorism. And, even in these more “traditional” areas, that include everything from small-scale (often urban) military operations on up to nuclear war—combined with the growing potential for increasingly longer-range delivery systems—military conflict (and, in essence, the nature of warfare) is being dramatically transformed by the rapidly changing nature of modern technology. At the same time, rapid globalization of our  defense industries and the increasing importance of coalition warfare are creating issues that the United States and its partners must face in the immediate future, literally in the months ahead. It is this combination of changes—new threats, new forms of warfare, rapid globalization of industry, and geopolitical necessity for coalition warfare—that is so extremely challenging for all of us. As you know, our NATO Alliance has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. As we look to our next 50 years of military partnership, we seek new directions to meet the new challenges of the 21st century. Two fundamental changes seem clear: first, the NATO Alliance will see more short, intense regional conflicts (perhaps followed by extended “peacekeeping” operations). And, second, NATO will seek to project power without putting large numbers of its forces at risk—as we have seen in Kosovo. Massed forces will be replaced by massed firepower, precisely placed on targets. Modern, so called “reconnaissance/strike” warfare, is based on the dual capabilities of real-time, all-weather, accurate and secure surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence, and communications systems combined with long-range, unmanned, “brilliant” (re-targetable in flight), highly-lethal weapons, designed to achieve precision kills (even on moving targets).

Technology can also enable us to dramatically reduce our response time to unpredictable geopolitical events. The type of regional conflict that we will see more frequently in the 21st century will rarely allow NATO six months to build up forces and deploy them. Nor will there be “free” ports or airfields any longer. Aggression will be instantaneous, with little warning, brutal, and difficult to defend against. This is particularly true in the case of aggression by transnational and international terrorist organizations because they are willing to sacrifice themselves and their own civilian populations, as well as hostile civilian populations, to achieve their objectives. In this environment, traditional deterrence methods will be far less effective.

Our reaction to this new form of aggression must be swift and  decisive. The first few days, if not the first few hours, can easily determine the outcome. Our response must come within 24 hours, with sustainability in place in seven days—not in seven weeks or seven months. And, this sustainment must be capable of continued, high-intensity operations. Such a rapid and sustained response requires a significant change in doctrine, tactics, organization, equipment and, particularly, decision making. The NATO Alliance—unfortunately, not known for its rapid decision making—will need to take crucial transformational steps in order to make this required change; and the threats we face dictate that we take these steps sooner rather than later.

As I said, the current and likely future geopolitical situation will almost certainly involve increased use of multinational coalition operations. In fact, it is hard to imagine a case in which we will not be acting in a coalition environment. In this situation, each nation’s security becomes highly dependent on the ability and willingness of its coalition partners to act in concert when threatened by hostile forces. That means, however, that the vulnerability of the weakest link makes us all vulnerable. That said, when proper coalition planning and implementation are achieved, technology enables us to act effectively—in fact synergistically—to achieve the objectives we seek. But it does require that each partner keep up with the technological evolutions, an admittedly difficult and expensive effort including both the investment in new military equipment and in the training for its use, as well as the continued investment in research and development in order to stay ahead.

Unfortunately, much of the new technology is also readily available to potential enemies; for example, utilizing commercial communications/navigation/earth surveillance satellites, biological/chemical weapons, and low-cost cruise and ballistic missiles. If they can’t develop them on their own, they can readily purchase them—and the skills to use them—on the world arms market.

Therefore, we and our coalition partners must both focus on counterproliferation efforts as well as develop and deploy effective countermeasures against these likely, modern threats; for example: information warfare defenses, broad-based vaccines and special medical agents to counter biological and chemical weapons, defenses against ballistic and cruise missiles, and the ability to destroy hard and deeply-buried targets.

And, to stay ahead of the enemy and to counter the new dimension of threats we will face as coalition partners, we must develop these new defenses cooperatively. For example: ballistic missile defense—essentially hitting a bullet with a bullet—poses a particularly difficult challenge; and deploying an integrated NATO theater missile defense system—one that collectively hits all the incoming missiles, instead of each of us independently going for the first one coming at us—is an even more demanding technical and management problem. Unless all systems—sensors, weapons, and communications—are fully interoperable, these complex theater missile defense “systems of systems” cannot be  effective.

Therefore, interoperability is a major challenge for us all, and one of my personal top priorities. We simply cannot fight effectively as a coalition unless we have fully interoperable equipment and communications—all of which must be secure and dependable. This was a point reiterated during the NATO Summit when NATO Heads of State and Government launched a Defense Capabilities Initiative (DCI). As part of the initiative, they established a temporary High Level Steering Group to oversee the implementation and to meet the requirement of coordination and harmonization among relevant planning disciplines, with the aim of achieving lasting effects on improvements in capabilities and interoperability. In the past, the objective of multinational armaments cooperation has been primarily to achieve cost reductions. While important, this has become a secondary goal to the military necessity of coalition force interoperability.

Perhaps the most important implication of the rapid global spread of technology is the need for NATO to accelerate its technological advantage on the battlefield, in order to stay ahead of our potential enemies. Since, as I said, a terrorist or rogue nation can easily acquire much of the required advanced technology on the world arms market or from readily available commercial sources, our advantage is quickly eroded unless we keep at least two steps ahead of the enemy. This requires far greater technology transfer controls outside of the Alliance and greater technology exchanges inside the Alliance—in militarily critical areas. It also requires us to reduce cycle times significantly in the development and procurement of new and modified weapon systems. Current cycle times for major defense systems run as long as 18 years. We must begin to think in terms of very short cycles—18 months is the norm for current commercial information systems. We must think in terms of much shorter cycles if we are to continue to outpace our adversaries.


On the industrial side, a similar transformation is required. In the United States, we have seen widespread consolidation of defense industries during the past few years. Ten years ago, today’s top five defense firms numbered more than 50 independent defense firms. This dramatic consolidation was the inevitable result of a dwindling defense procurement budget—a 70% decrease following the end of the Cold War and only now beginning to increase, as we struggle to commit increased resources to weapons modernization; and, even these small increases represent a difficult challenge, as our modernization dollars are continuously being drained off to pay for the maintenance of old and overused existing equipment (for example, it is obvious that trucks averaging 57 years of age—our current forecast for the Army—are going to require huge maintenance costs; if you can find the parts at all).

Our defense industrial consolidation, however, is beginning to pay big dividends. A recent independent agency report identified more than $2 billion in savings, over just the last three years, from defense industry mergers. Yet, while encouraging consolidations, we have insisted upon maintaining competition. Naturally, as consolidation increases, maintaining adequate competition becomes increasingly difficult. And this has resulted, as you know, in our decision to resist some recent large mergers.

There are certainly similar opportunities for consolidation in Europe—and we have begun to see significant movement in that direction. Clearly, consolidation and rationalization, if taken advantage of, will improve firms’ competitiveness, increase investments in advanced technology, and enhance chances for success in a fast-paced global marketplace.

The key to our policy, however, on domestic consolidation is to understand the need for maintaining competition. Competition drives increased efficiency, and, most important, promotes innovation. Monopolistic conditions, beyond being simply undesirable from a price standpoint, would allow a monopolistic defense firm to seal off military capabilities that could result from new innovations in the non-defense sector. Given the importance, as I said, of new, often commercially developed, technology, we simply cannot let this happen. In the U.S. we have encouraged consolidation, and we will continue to do so as long as we see potential savings and as long as we can maintain effective competition in all critical defense sectors. And we will continue to strive to resist mergers that threaten to become monopolistic.

There are two directions in which European consolidation can evolve: the first is the so-called “Fortress Europe/Fortress USA” model. This will likely result in sole-source European firms being politically selected as European suppliers and competing with U.S. firms only for third-world sales. This, in turn, could easily result in separate U.S. and European military technology and a weakening of the NATO Alliance. The alternative we might call a “competitive, transatlantic industrial model," characterized by industrial linkages of multiple firms, operating on both sides of the ocean, effectively competing in both the large European and U.S. markets—and sharing technology (with, of course, effective external technology controls being applied). In this alternative model, the benefits of competition are realized (for both Europe and the U.S); the NATO structure is strengthened; large U.S. and European markets are opened up to the transatlantic firms; and third-world proliferation incentives are significantly reduced.

Industry (on both sides of the Atlantic) has been asking us to put out “clarifying guidance” on what added forms of industrial multinational defense mergers would be acceptable—and we are in the process of doing that. In general, we recognize the clear need for future coalition warfare and the complementary strong industrial trend of globalization, along with the requirement for greater interoperability of Allies’ equipment and the potential of international companies to achieve this. Nevertheless, especially in the global cyber age, collective, external control of militarily-significant technology becomes even more critical if we are to maintain our collective military superiority.

We realize that international armaments cooperation increases the potential security risks (inherent to the transfer of militarily-significant technology). To eliminate such risks, all participating nations must insure that adequate controls are in place to eliminate the transfer of technology outside the coalition partnership, or even into the commercial world. This, of course, requires governments and firms to understand and embrace a new security environment where fences and visitor controls are less critical than cyber controls. Since terrorists, transnational and other potential future adversaries are eager to acquire advanced technology on the world market, it is clearly in our combined self-interest not to whittle away our technological advantage by passing it on to our enemies or even to friends of our enemies. Unfortunately, for some nations and firms the historic, empirical data in this area leaves much to be concerned about. It likely will require careful attention and, in many cases, much new action by both governments and firms to achieve the required controls.

One of the major issues of the early 21st century, then, is how to expand the defense industrial structure globally; how to achieve a truly global marketplace, and yet protect our militarily-critical technology.

Industrial globalization is taking place, with very little likelihood that we could—or should—do anything to delay it or prevent it. Therefore, we must embrace it, without looking back, with an eye to making it serve both our industrial needs and our national security strategy. If we don’t, it will likely be used against us. And, perhaps even worse, it likely will weaken our international alliances. These are results that none of us can allow. Leadership in this area requires both governments and corporations to take actions over the coming months. The U.S. has made this a top priority, and we need the cooperation of our Allies to make this effort truly successful.

One final point: this paradox—how to take advantage of globalization and still maintain confidentiality and security—is compounded by the fact that there is a compelling need to achieve far greater civil and military industrial integration; both to take advantage of rapidly advancing commercial technology (such as in the information area and modern logistics) as well as to achieve the potential economic advantages of integrated production operations (as offered by such concepts as “flexible manufacturing” and “lean production”). Again, this move to civil-military industrial integration is one we must encourage through the continued elimination of defense-unique buying practices (so-called “acquisition reform”), but we must simultaneously be mindful of the added difficulties it introduces in terms of the control of militarily-critical technologies. This can be done, but only if we address the issue explicitly.


In summary, advanced technology holds great promise in helping us to meet the likely threats of early 21st century conflicts. Yet, we must also keep in mind that none of this technology will achieve its desired effect if our combat forces do not know how to use it or when to use it. It must be fully integrated into our Alliance military doctrine, tactics, operations, and forces; and the NATO decision-making process must be transformed in order to be able to respond in the reduced time available. This is both a challenge and an opportunity.

A nineteenth century American poet, James Russell Lowell, once said that “he who is firmly seated in authority soon learns to think that security, and not progress, is the highest lesson of statecraft.” This is a trap that we must not fall into. It is our duty and our most pressing challenge to think in terms of both security and progress; in this period of dramatic change, we have no choice. The decisions made over the coming months and the next few years regarding both our military and industrial structures will likely determine our collective security for the early decades of the twenty-first century. It is up to us to accept and implement the necessary change sand to make the required, but difficult decisions wisely. We must ensure our security through rapid progress in the way we collectively prepare, buy and fight and, most importantly, the way we think. The future security of each of our nations depends on it.


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